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Coronavirus test and trace system to be created in Kent after failure of government's 'unsatisfactory' scheme

A coronavirus test and trace system is being created in Kent to "bolster" the national effort.

Specially-trained call handlers will be appointed by Kent County Council (KCC) to contact people and tell them to self-isolate if they have tested positive with Covid or been in close contact with someone who has the virus.

The temporary coronavirus testing station in Beach Street, Sheerness. Picture: John Nurden
The temporary coronavirus testing station in Beach Street, Sheerness. Picture: John Nurden

Under the plans, advisers will be expected to establish close Covid contacts and load the details onto the Government's track and trace system.

The support packages available to people living in the 13 districts will also be highlighted, such as financial assistance for those self-isolating.

KCC's public health boss Cllr Clair Bell (Con) said: "The whole point is to bolster the system through the local tracing plans that have been put in place."

The news comes as the Conservative Government continues to come under fire for problems with the existing service despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson claiming back in May it would be a "world beating" system.

On Sunday, Sevenoaks residents were left frustrated after some people, checking for Covid symptoms, were sent to anon-existent test site at Otford Road park and ride. It had been listed as one on Whitehall's website.

The site of the non-existent Covid testing station in Sevenoaks
The site of the non-existent Covid testing station in Sevenoaks

Earlier this month, Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick said councils were "bound to be better" at contact tracing. Cash has been given to councils to assist, with KCC awarded a £6.3million test and trace grant two weeks ago.

However, Cllr Rob Bird (Lib Dem), KCC's main opposition leader, said the local service must be "robust" and "effective" and called for assurances on this.

At a full council meeting yesterday, he said the national system was reaching less than 60% of potential contacts and described it as "unsatisfactory".

Cllr Bird said: "Up until now Kent appears to have been spared the worst effects of a second wave of coronavirus, which is regrettably hitting other parts of the UK very hard.

"However, Kent needs to be prepared for much more difficult conditions in the coming weeks.

The Prime Minister promised a 'world-beating' test and trace system. Picture: Andrew Parsons
The Prime Minister promised a 'world-beating' test and trace system. Picture: Andrew Parsons

"Clearly effective test and track systems are critical to dealing with any sharp escalation of Covid-19 cases in Kent."

In response, Cllr Bell said the council "absolutely" aspired to reach more than 60% of potential contacts amid ongoing Government criticism. But, the NHS test and trace Covid-19 app launched last month will continue to be used.

KCC's track and trace system will follow the model of the Kent Together helpline, a 24-hour Covid service set up during the early stages of the pandemic, in April, to support vulnerable people in Kent who need extra help.

She told more than 70 councillors and officers: "It will utilise the experience of the Kent Together helpline and use call handlers who will contact residents who the Government track and trace have not been able to contact."

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